Verizon Nokia Lumia Icon gets official: first-impressions

Verizon has refilled its Windows Phone flagship spot, with the Nokia Lumia Icon distilling what we liked from the Lumia 1520 into a 5-inch form-factor with a crisp metal chassis and 20-megapixel PureView. Fronted by a 5-inch, 1080p Full HD OLED ClearBlack display, and running Windows Phone 8 on Qualcomm's 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 quadcore, what the Lumia Icon is particularly focusing on is video recording quality, both in terms of image thanks to the oversampling and lossless zoom of PureView, and a more impressive soundtrack with directional audio recording. Check out our first impressions after the cut.

The camera on the Lumia Icon is the same 20-megapixel PureView system as on the Lumia 1520, with a six-element Zeiss f/2.4 lens, dual-LED flash, and optical image stabilization. On the front there's a 2-megapixel camera which can record 720p video. The Icon also gets four microphones: the two on the front, top and bottom, are active during calls for background noise cancellation, while the two on the back are used during video recording.

Nokia focuses the audio recording at that time on whatever the camera is pointing at, so that even if there's loud noise around you, you can still hear whatever's going on in front. It's still early days in our testing, but already the system looks to produce impressive results. Both stills and video – captured at 1080/30p – take advantage of lossless zooming, with the ability to simply run your finger up and down the touchscreen to zoom (making for less shake than when trying to pinch-zoom).

While that display itself may be down an inch on the Lumia 1520, it still runs at the same 1920 x 1080 resolution, and makes for a phone that's much easier to hold in one hand. With a pixel density of 441ppi, and a high-brightness mode for easy visibility outside, it offers Nokia's super-sensitive touchscreen tech so that it's usable even with gloves on, and is protected with Gorilla Glass 3.

The pure specs don't quite describe how nicely the Lumia Icon is designed and constructed, however. The frame is milled from a single block of aluminum, and then finished either in matte silver or matte black. The rear panel is matte-finish polycarbonate, with no bump for the PureView camera; on the flip-side, the glass is curved at the edges, making for smoother sweeps of your thumb, and the fascia as a whole is dominated by the display with minimal bezels.

It's not the smallest, or lightest device, at 5.39 x 2.79 x 0.39 inches and 166g, but the crisp edges and non-glossy materials make it comfortable to hold. As on the Lumia 925, Nokia has used the edge of the Icon as its antenna for the LTE/CDMA/UMTS world-phone radios inside. However, it has sensibly put the joins top and bottom, rather than on the sides, so that your hand doesn't inadvertently bridge them when you're holding it to your ear, scuppering the signal. Even the required regulatory logos are etched not printed onto the bottom edge, a considered touch.

As you'd hope for a flagship phone, there's no shortage of power. Along with the Snapdragon 800 chip there's 2GB of memory and 32GB of storage; unfortunately there's no memory card slot, only the tray for the nanoSIM on the top edge, alongside the headphone jack. A microUSB port is on the bottom for charging and synchronizing.

Similarly the 2420 mAh battery is non-removable, though Nokia claims up to 16hrs of CDMA talktime from it; a full charge is expected to take around 2.5hrs. Happily, wireless charging – using the Qi standard – is included without needing an external case or adapter, along with WiFi a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz), Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, a digital compass, A-GPS/GLONASS, and the other usual sensors, including an FM radio.

Already we're appreciating the Lumia Icon's more hand-friendly scale compared to the Lumia 1520, with the smaller device delivering the same performance and usability without demanding that you accept a phablet form-factor. Meanwhile the Icon also goes some way to mask Windows Phone's lingering inefficiencies when it comes to actually taking advantage of all that display real-estate: the extra column of icons on the homescreen works, but things like the on-screen keyboard being the same size – which we found to be ridiculously overscaled when we reviewed the 1520 – aren't so frustrating on Verizon's version.

There's plenty to like about the Verizon Lumia Icon. It's well made, neatly designed, and the camera doesn't compromise, all factors Nokia insists its target audience at the carrier are particularly concerned about. Whether that all holds up over time is something we'll address in our full review, coming soon; the Nokia Lumia Icon itself will go on sale on February 20th in black and white, priced at $199.99 with a new, two-year agreement.